Brant Kuithe had made up his mind to leave the University of Utah after last season for the NFL draft.
Frankly, had it actually wound up that way, it wouldn’t have come as a shock.
Three times an All-Pac-12 selection, Kuithe flirted with leaving for the NFL after the COVID-impacted, five-game 2020 season, but came back in 2021, catching 50 passes for 611 yards and six touchdowns.
Dalton Kincaid had not made up his mind to the extent Kuithe had, but 36 catches for 510 yards and a team-best eight touchdowns, while proving himself as a capable blocker in multiple schemes, certainly had him at least strongly considering it.
The trajectory of this Cam Rising-led Utah passing attack and what could ultimately be in 2022, where the Utes will surely open as the Pac-12 favorite, hinged partially on Kuithe and Kincaid making up their respective minds.
“There were a number of 1-on-1 conversations with them,” Utes tight ends coach Freddie Whittingham told The Salt Lake Tribune late Tuesday afternoon following Utah’s fourth of 15 spring practices. “Honestly, Brant had decided to go and then changed his mind. I never really felt like he was 100% sold on that being the right move, so we just kept talking about it, kept talking about it, and he hadn’t announced anything.”
Whittingham noted on Thursday that Kuithe and Kincaid “listened to the right people.” Specifically, both players sought early evaluations from the NFL’s College Advisory Committee. Boiled down, that group offers college players one of three grades. Potential first-round pick, potential second-round pick, or neither. If you get neither, that is essentially a recommendation to return to school.
Neither Kuithe, nor Kincaid received a first or second-round grade from the College Advisory Committee.
On Dec. 23, Kuithe seemingly caught people by surprise by announcing he would return to Utah in 2022 as a fifth-year senior. The following Day, Kincaid, also a fifth-year senior, announced he would do the same.
With those two announcements, which came a week before Utah played in the Rose Bowl, a lot was expected of Utah in 2022. That has a lot to do with Rising returning, plus the All-Pac-12 first-team selection having two of his top-three pass catchers from back.
Kuithe, for what it’s worth, has played in all three of Utah’s Pac-12 championship game appearances. In Los Angeles during the week leading up to the Rose Bowl, he openly pondered what could be possible this fall, going as far as to mention the College Football Playoff.
“I think that played a huge role,” Whittingham said, referencing Kuithe’s desire to return to the Rose Bowl, potentially even making a CFP run. “He was here in 2018 and 2019 when we went to the Pac-12 championship game, didn’t get to the Rose Bowl. The COVID year was what it was, and then we got a taste of it.
“That Rose Bowl experience, we all wanted to win that game, we were all bitterly disappointed, but when you sit back and look at that experience, it was phenomenal, and we want another bite of that apple, or something more. We’re all excited about this team, but all we have to focus on right now is Thursday’s practice.”
Utah has increasingly looked to employ its tight ends as pass-catching options, often running ‘13′ personnel, which means one running back and three tight ends. Kuithe and Kincaid are back, but Cole Fotheringham is off to the NFL draft. That means Freddie and Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham need to find a viable third tight end, if not a fourth and fifth, so it can keep going with the ‘13′ personnel when necessary.
Munir McClain is a redshirt sophomore wide receiver-turned-tight end, who has the attention of both Whittinghams this spring. Kyle on Thursday compared McClain to Kuithe in that both have wide receiver speed and skills.
The idea for McClain to move to tight end came from the coaching staff, but McClain, Kyle said, was open to it.
“He was excited about it, and he’s not getting any smaller,” Kyle Whittingham said. “He came to us at about 215, but he’s put on about 15 pounds and we think his highest ceiling is going to be that tight end position, in a similar fashion to what Brant does for us.
“He has to learn his techniques and fundamentals blocking-wise because as a wide receiver, when you stalk block on the edge, that’s a lot different than when you need to have a wind-back block and dig a defensive end out or something like that. That’s going to take some time, but he’s willing. As long as you have a guy that’s willing to hit and willing to be physical, you can work with that.”
Kyle noted that Thomas Yassmin, a fifth-year Australian junior who had never played American football before arriving in 2018, is in the mix as the third tight end, having practiced well through four sessions.
“He looks great through four practices,” Freddie said of Yassmin, who grew up playing rugby. “He’s practicing very, very well. He’s continued to develop his game as a guy that never played football before he got here. He’s in his fourth year, so we expect him to be a major contributor this fall.”
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